My first 3 rounds of chemo will be EC (Epirubicin and Cyclophosphamide)
I arrived at 10:30am and was feeling upbeat and positive! I felt like a child skipping in to watch Lion King, aware there would be a Mufasa death Scene, but on the whole a family friendly film! Sit with a drip in my arm for a few hours? No problem! Oh more fool me. As 4 hours later I would be walking the same corridor having watched the uncensored version of Apocoloypse now.
I check in at the desk behind 3 other women. We are all given a bay number and head to our respective bays. A bit like a production line! On entering my bay I then take my seat amongst 12 other men and women.
This is a stark wake up call. At the breast clinic you are there with people who have cancer, but also people who are being investigated. Many go home told their lump was just a cyst, or was muscular. Yes the majority are still older than me but theres a much wider range. But here, everyone has Cancer. And many of them look like they have cancer. The next youngest to me is 66. There is no denying where we are and what we are here for.
I am given 5 steroid and anti sickness tablets to take before treatment starts. As I’m having the cold cap they need to insert my needles beforehand as the cold will shrink the veins. Sadly my veins aren’t cooperating so I have to go and stand with my hand in a sink of warm water!
Eventually the needle is in, a saline drip is started and we can begin cold cap. They sprayed my hair with cold water and fitted the cap. The cap fills with fluid at minus 18 degrees, to freeze my hair follicles. As the chemo drugs attack fast growing cells (the cancer cells) they also attack all other fast growing cells such as hair follicles which is why you lose your hair. By freezing the hair follicles this limits the amount of chemo drugs that attack the hair and in theory reduces hair loss.
So once its fitted, its time to switch it on. As the cap starts to fill with fluid it feels a bit like a head massage.
Not too bad!
A cooling, bubbling sensation on my head. As more fluid comes into the cap and gets colder it starts to compress on my head a bit more.
But within 10 minutes the crushing feeling becomes unbearable. Like someone has put a metal vice on my head and is continuing to clamp it. And clamp it. And clamp it. I have heard the first 15-20 minutes are the hardest but eventually your head gets so cold it goes numb. So I persevere. It just gets worse and worse. Its pain from the pressure, its pain for the cold.
I seriously contemplate how much I want to keep my hair. Is it worth this much pain? I try and rationalise that this is only for a few hours but I will keep my hair for an extra year. I know I’ll regret it if I take it off. If I don’t at least try. So I grin and bear it. minus the grinning!
After a long 30 minutes of having my head pre-frozen they come to administer the chemo drugs. The nurse comes over with 5 LARGE syringes. 3 bright red, 2 clear. We start with the bright red. She warns me this will make my skin and wee bright red over the next day or two! Having this administered isn’t actually too bad. The nurse has to sit and inject it herself, so we are sat opposite each other but I cant speak. I’m so focused on the pain in my head. Each syringe takes about 10-15 minutes to administer. When the 3 red ones are done its onto the clear.
This is less pleasant. The fluid feels like it burns as it goes into the veins and leaves a burning sensation in my nose. I can taste it. The taste of chemicals becomes overwhelming. I have to sit through another two syringes worth of this. After another 40 minutes all the drugs are in my system so its back onto the saline drip to flush it through. And worst part of all…. 90 minutes of sitting with the cold cap on! This would take me to 2pm. I have never clock watched so closely in my life! I am counting down until this torture device can come off! I watch with envy as people leave as soon as their drugs are done.
I keep telling myself I’m 36. I really want to keep my hair. It is unbearable knowing I’m putting myself through this for vanity. But cancer is taking hold more and more. I feel more and more like a patient everyday and losing my hair would just be the final straw. I would then look like a cancer patient as well as feel like one.
As 2pm comes round they take my cold cap off and I want to cry. They warned me the cap may be frozen to my head and would need time to defrost. But it didnt. It whipped straight off. Had it not worked?? Despite the pain, the freezing, the length of time we’d kept it on, had it not done its job? We won’t know for 3 weeks. We probably won’t know before my next session. Which means going through all this again just in case, with the very real possibility it may do nothing at all.
I want to go home and curl up in a ball.
But before I can leave I get my drugs to take home. Damn! Forgot to bring my suitcase!
I had heard them telling other patients to have Dom Perignon with each meal as they left. Well I’m more of a prosecco girl myself but I’ll make allowances! Imagine my devastation then when they came over with my anti sickness drugs… Domperidone. They really need to change the name of that drug. Thats just mean!
As well as the domperidone I am given a tablet to take at bedtime and steroids to take with breakfast and lunch for 3 days. Just as I think my list of drugs is complete she heads to the fridge for the last one. 5 injections I have to self administer into my stomach for 5 days!
As we walk out with the bags of medicine my head is still numb. I can’t focus on anything, I can’t think straight, I’m in a complete daze. When we get home this continues for the rest of the afternoon. I begin to feel nauseated. I lay on the sofa just zoned out. I can’t quite string a sentence together. I can’t face eating. Even drinking feels like a chore. But I have to have 2 litres of water to flush the chemo drugs through.
At about 8pm I go up to bed and just want to flake out. But first I have to clean my teeth. The last thing I want is anything in my mouth, I don’t want to clean my teeth, I don’t want the taste of mint. But one of the main priorities with chemo is dental hygeine, and I’m advised to clean my teeth 5 or 6 times a day. So I battle on, clean my teeth and flop into bed.
At about 10pm I begin writhing around groaning (in pain and alone, not the other kind!) It gets more and more unbearable and then it hits, The vomiting begins.
I start to vomit and realise it isn’t going to stop. I vomit up everything I’ve ever eaten, seriously I think I spotted a 1982 Farleys Rusk in there! I was shaking and sweating on the bathroom floor, just calling for my mum (who luckily was downstairs, it wasn’t just a distant cry into the night!) She came to my rescue and when I had finished vomiting up all non vital organs we got me back to bed. I dont think Ive ever felt so uncomfortable. Needless to say not much sleep takes place. On the plus side I watch every episode of Fawlty Towers back to back!
As the sun starts to come up I can conclude chemo day 1 was horrific. Lets see what Chemo day 2 has in store..You can donate now to my Boobs and Babies Fundraising! Subscribe to this blog Follow me on twitter